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Versions of the apocalypse in four seventeenth century authors Watson, Charles Ernest

Abstract

In the literature of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries poets felt a special affinity with the subject of the end of the world, and utilized visions of the apocalypse in their works. Examples of such descriptions of the final dissolution of the world are to be found in the major European literatures of the period. In order to stay within manageable limits, and since their works are representative of the treatment of this topic, this study involves an examination of the apocalyptic visions of Agrippa d'Aubigné, John Donne, Marc Antoine de Gérard Saint-Amant, and Richard Crashaw. Specifically the poems considered are d'Aubigné's "Les Tragiques", Donne's "Anniversaries," Saint-Amant's "Le Contemplateur" and "La Solitude," Crashaw's adaptation of the Latin hymn entitled "The Hymn of the Church, in Meditation of the Day of Judgment, 'Dies Irae,'" and "The Teresa Poems.," In both the Jewish and Christian traditions there are apocalypses that reveal the nature of the end of things. The most well known of these apocalypses are the books of "Daniel" and the "Revelation of St. John." In this study the visions of the four authors are considered in the light of this tradition. The critical approach in the first four chapters is the examination of each of the authors' poems separately, and the discussion of the primary features of their apocalyptic descriptions. This necessitates a consideration of the author's attitude toward his artistic purpose, his conception of his source of inspiration, his exact use of the apocalypse in the body of his poem, and the use of certain rhetorical techniques that are fundamental to the nature of an apocalyptic work. In the chapters on d'Aubigné and Donne the artistic purpose and use of the apocalypse is viewed as propagandist or seriously moral, the source of inspiration that of the man inspired by God, and the rhetorical method the exercise of cumulative piling, harangues, and spectacular language. Contrasted with the serious and universal function of the apocalypse in d'Aubigné and Donne, in the visions of Saint-Amant and Crashaw the source of inspiration emanates from the poets' own understanding of their imaginative state. The visions are seen as more personal, and in the case of Saint-Amant, as a necessary structural element. In both authors variations on the rhetorical techniques of the other authors are evident. In the final chapter features of the authors' apocalyptic poems which are also found in either the Jewish or Christian traditions are assessed. Whereas the poems of d'Aubigné and Donne are seen as sharing the overall moral outlook and direction with these traditions, such as a prophetic source of inspiration and intent to console, the poems of Saint-Amant and Crashaw are not. They are described as introverted versions in which the personal and primarily aesthetic overrides the universal. The reasons for the appearance of the subject in the authors are suggested in terms of the poets' individual motivations and a sceptical crisis in the period. Lastly, the suggestion is made that a definition and distinction be given to the genre and motif of the apocalypse.

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